For Better, For Worse
Marriage is hard.
I saw the "Fast Money" part of Family Feud recently, and the question was, "On a scale of one to ten, how hard is it for a married couple to remain faithful to one another?" The wife answered "8." Her husband, in the second round, answered "9." The number one answer from the audience was "5."
Temptations abound. Our highly sexualized culture pretty much bases sexual morality on one question: Is it consensual? If two people want to have sex, there's not much our society says is wrong about it. Because of the high divorce rate in our country, marriage has been described as "serial monogamy." Serial monogamy - being faithful to one partner after another.
Even two people who are believers in Christ and who are highly committed to one another for a lifetime marriage battle constant pressures. The busyness of work and raising children and keeping insane schedules often leave us exhausted. And exhaustion makes joyful engagement in a loving relationship much more challenging. Hobbies and work and other friendships can leave a spouse feeling like a "married single," with loneliness creeping in.
Then there is disagreement. Because marriage is the most intimate relationship we typically enter into, it is also the most vulnerable. Disagreement can lead to fighting, which can inflict deep emotional wounds that can only be healed by forgiveness. And forgiving can be very difficult.
Does faith in Jesus have any help for the pressures and brokenness of marriage? Glad you asked!
Marriage is God's idea. Jesus pointed to God's design for marriage when asked about whether or not it is okay to divorce. “Haven’t you read,” He replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6 NIV)
Beginning with the simple truth that we are created beings, made in the image of God and responsible to Him for our attitudes, behaviors and morality raises marriage from a way to find happiness to something higher. Through the centuries, the Church of Jesus Christ has called it holy matrimony. Seeing marriage as a holy relationship with God at the center of it changes our perspective.
Then there is becoming "one flesh." Marriage is meant for unity. Marriage is meant to bond two souls together. Marriage is meant to model the relationship between Christ and His Church. (Ephesians 5:31-32)
What power on earth can overcome our fallen human nature and make us to kind of person who gives ourselves to one another in marriage in a way that seeks to bless the other person without focusing on our own happiness? The answer is so obvious that popular music has trumpeted it for all the ages. "All you need is love." And yet popular music has just missed the real power of love.
Our human love for one another is a powerful reflection of God's unconditional love for us. We are created in God's image, with the capacity to love and the capacity to choose. Love is powerful. Love cares for another person more than caring for ourselves. Love is the antidote to selfishness. Love has transforming power to change a life. But human love is limited. I am convinced the kind of love it takes to make a marriage all God wants it to be is His love intermingled with ours.
When God is at the center of a marriage and both spouses are sold out to God's love and seeking to become more and more Christlike, love deepens and grows in the marriage and the relationship is strengthened. Oh, we still have to do the hard work of relationship. We have to sacrifice for one another. We have to negotiate disagreement. We have to forgive when we have been wounded. We have to change our behavior so as not to keep wounding our beloved. And it is the love of Jesus working in our hearts that deepens and expands our human love to be up to the task.
The vows of marriage say we will be faithful to one another "...for better, for worse." Marriage is a roller coaster of ups and downs. Marriage has deep joys and great sorrows. Come what may, I love Jesus and I love my wife. I remain committed to Him, and committed to her. For better, or for worse. For richer or for poorer. In sickness and in health. Till death separates us. Amen.